By Rene Sanchez
Creating a Community
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 04, 1992
It's not quite a neighborhood yet, but the old downtown streets near Pennsylvania Avenue NW and the District and federal court houses are now brimming with the first signs of a new way of life.
There are new cafes. A new pharmacy. The first grocery store is expected to open later this year. And there are about 600 tenants living in new, upscale apartment buildings, including Cindy Cartusciello, a young mother who regularly straps her baby in a stroller and wheels her around an area that once knew only commuting workers and shoppers.
"At first, it seemed kind of Spartan around here," said Cartusciello, 30, who moved from New York last fall with her husband, Neil, and new baby, Katherine. "But I realized I'm just a block away from everything—the deli, shopping, art galleries. I hope this idea works."
Two decades of planning have finally begun to bear fruit in Cartusciello's new community, which anchors the eastern end of downtown Washington and is called Pennsylvania Quarter.
The Quarter, a tight square of District blocks bounded by Pennsylvania Avenue and G, Sixth and Ninth streets, was the center of commerce downtown earlier this century and bustled with immigrants and sidewalk produce markets.
But its wealth of small businesses, many of which came to be owned by black merchants, were dealt a near-fatal blow in the 1968 riots. The area has barely had a pulse ever since.
The last year, however, has inaugurated a new era—this one filled with high-rise apartments and condominiums, priced largely for the affluent, that have nudged next to the eclectic jumble of government buildings, art galleries and small businesses that have long been in the area.
Four apartment buildings that can house more than 1,000 tenants—from the luxurious Market Square condos that flank the U.S. Navy Memorial to the Lansburgh and the Pennsylvania—are off to an encouraging start.
The Quarter is the only downtown site between Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill whose streets are filled with residents—not just office-building workers or commuters. And many more may be coming in the next few years.
Several other sites nearby are also slated for large residential development. That's not likely, however, until the recession is gone and forgotten and some lingering questions about how merchants who could be swept away by the upscale change will be relocated.
Some community activists also continue to be critical of the District for promoting an enclave for wealthy residents downtown instead of steering developers to middle-income neighborhoods, a move that would help relieve the desperate need for affordable housing elsewhere in the city.
There is fear as well that the inevitable rise of commercial rents in the area will drive away artists and gallery owners who can't afford them. Others argue, however, that the Quarter's arrival will bring a dramatic boost to the city's dwindling tax base.
"That area had been a dead zone," said Terry Lynch, a housing activist who has been fighting against the proliferation of office buildings downtown in recent years.
"Now this is one of the few parts of town where we have reverse migration," Lynch said. "People who like living right in the middle of places like New York, San Francisco or Chicago are coming back in."
With only a smattering of new shops and restaurants, Pennsylvania Quarter still is an extraordinarily far cry from the vibrant downtown neighborhoods in any of those cities. But Chinatown and the Mall are only a short walk away, and if new merchants in the area succeed, others are bound to follow.
One of the first tenants to move into The Lansburgh, which has 385 apartments, when it opened last year was David Delmonte, a World Bank official who lived for years in Adams-Morgan and along 16th Street NW.
"This is the first time I've actually felt like I'm living right in the middle of a big city," he said during an open house for tenants last weekend. Delmonte has begun forming the first residents' association in the area.
The Lansburgh, where monthly rents range from $950 to $2,500, is about 40 percent full. On the corner of Seventh and E streets NW, it features a large courtyard and a fitness complex. The Shakespeare Theatre also just moved to the Lansburgh after 22 years on Capitol Hill.
Lansburgh residents and those at other Quarter sites groan over the absence of a supermarket, but one is expected to open on Eighth Street as early as August.
Developers in the area are betting that its arrival will help transform the area into a neighborhood that could compete with Georgetown and Dupont Circle by the decade's end.
"I think people are starting to distinguish the neighborhood as being separate from what they know as downtown," said Richard Backer, a vice president with the Boston-based Gunwyn Co., which developed the Lansburgh. It sits on the site of the famed Lansburgh department store, which closed in the 1970s after a retailing run that began at that site in 1916.
Residents who have moved into the Quarter in the last year tout the abundant amenities in each building, and their quick walks to work.
Each site has a parking garage, round-the-clock concierges and a Metro stop practically on its doorstep. The Market Square condominiums have rooftop swimming pools. Many apartments in all four buildings offer views of Washington's landmarks.
The Quarter appears to be attracting both young and old professionals, a few of whom have children. Some residents are there full time; others split their time between there and homes in Annapolis or New York or other cities.
The area has lawyers, lobbyists, art dealers and U.S. senators. At last count, Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.), Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) and former senator Howard Baker of Tennessee had residences.
Susan Smith, a lobbyist who lived in Arlington for 10 years, bought a condominium in Market Square for less than $200,000 last fall. Other units cost three times that much.
"Initially, I looked at it just as an investment but there's so much there, the views are great, so I moved in," she said. "It doesn't have a big sense of community right now, but I think it will. And already I think everyone I know is coming over to see the Fourth of July fireworks from the roof."
Many of Pennsylvania Quarter's new residents are living for the first time in the District. For them, the convenience to the Mall and its museums far outweighs the fact that the usual trappings of a pleasant neighborhood—longtime residents, parks, churches—are missing.
Cartusciello, a former opera singer, moved to the 150-unit Pennsylvania on Sixth Street NW from New York when her husband was transferred to the Justice Department's headquarters.
Her first few months in the Quarter, she said, have brought constant surprises.
"I can't believe how clean it is compared to New York," Cartusciello said. "I've gotten to know the man who runs the deli around the corner. I found the Carousel on the Mall for my daughter Katherine to ride. And she and I have gone to all the museums—the guards even know us now when we come in."
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